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David Johnson faces Saints with a chance to make NFL history

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) scores a touchdown as San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Nick Bellore (50) pursues during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE — With 100 total yards from scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, David Johnson would become the first player in NFL history to reach that mark in each of his team’s first 14 games in a season.

With 255 receiving yards over the next three games, he would join Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players to ever tally at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.

On Thursday, Johnson said his goal over these final three games is to get wins, finish strong and yes, join the 1,000/1,000 club.

“Two great running backs,” he said of the ranks he would then be among. “That would be great, a great achievement. It would be a great blessing. Hopefully I can do that.”

Johnson, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Friday, is having the kind of season that makes you believe it is not only possible, but likely.

Even if, apparently, he doesn’t even realize what all could be in store for him.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that one — that would be cool too,” he said of the 100-yards from scrimmage streak. “I definitely, to be the only one to do that would be amazing, just to come out, not getting looked at much coming out of college and then being able to maybe break some records.”

Johnson, as humble as ever, has risen to the top of the running back ranks rather quickly. Coincidentally, the very team he could set an NFL record against also happens to be the first one he ever scored a touchdown against, as in Week 1 of last season he took his only touch of the game, a swing pass, 55 yards for a game-clinching touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.

The third-round pick out of Northern Iowa did not truly break out until later in the season, however, and since then has been one of the best offensive players in the entire NFL. He said he learns of his exploits mostly from social media, with others letting him know what exactly he is on the verge of accomplishing.

Even his coach, who was notoriously hard on the running back earlier in the season, has come around.

“That’s elite company, nobody,” Bruce Arians said of the possibility of Johnson being the first in history with 100 total yards from scrimmage in the first 14 games of a season. “That speaks for itself, really. The people that he’s being mentioned with are Hall of Fame guys, so for a second-year player, I think it’s outstanding.”

“When you just talk about David, in any aspect, he’s a hard worker, smart guy, loved by his teammates,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Obviously we know, as a group, he’s a special talent, so hopefully we can go out and continue to help him achieve great things, but we want team goals and team achievements as well. So we’ll see what happens but yeah, we like that guy.”

In Cardinals history, the record for most total yardage in a season — including return yards — belongs to Terry Metcalf, who had 2,462 in 1975. However, 1,268 of those were return yards.

Johnson, who has not returned a kick this season, is up to 1,830 yards and is unlikely to catch Metcalf, though he is on pace to finish with a top-five season.

The running back says all of this is attainable for him as long as he continues to do his job and fulfill his responsibilities while learning how to be an effective route runner. He has spent time talking and working with receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who himself said he would like to see Johnson reach 1,000 receiving yards.

“That would be great,” he said. “We all want him to be able to do that, and I think if he’s able to accomplish that, I don’t know if anybody in the league can say they’ve had a better year than David Johnson.

“I know the team hasn’t had the kind of success we want, but David Johnson has been a bell cow from opening game to last week — in nasty conditions, the guy still was able to get it done — that’s just the kind of player he is, and we’re very fortunate to have him.”

Fitzgerald went on to praise Johnson for his willingness to work hard and be coached, despite being so talented.

“He’s got so many wonderful characteristics about him and you’re just proud to be a teammate of his,” he said.

Fitzgerald has been to nine Pro Bowls and will go down as one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game, and yet seems to be in awe of what Johnson is able to do.

Yet, Johnson said made sure to credit Fitzgerald for teaching him how to run effective routes and get open as a bigger receiver. The running back noted that the veteran wideout thinks he can catch better than him, though he claimed that’s a joke between the two.

Fitzgerald did not want to take much credit for Johnson’s ascension, instead pointing to the team’s running backs coach, Stump Mitchell. One thing he would not accept, however, is that Johnson has better hands.

“I used to always tease him about me being faster than him, but after the Saints game he put that to bed,” he said. “But I’m not going to give him the hands stuff — that’s one thing that he’s not going to ever have from me. No, I can’t give him that.”

That last line came with a smile, of course.

In a season that has not gone the way the team had hoped, Johnson has absolutely been a bright spot. That he has played well is a surprise to few, but him having a record-setting campaign could not have been predicted, especially in his second season.

But Johnson, however, said he was never lacking confidence. That, or motivation.

“I just wanted to come out and prove myself and let them know that they didn’t waste a draft pick and they can rely on me to get the job done,” he said.

Stories for pre-game reading

Though the Cardinals no longer see the playoffs as an option, they maintain there is still something to play for

Four Cardinals landed on ProFootballFocus’ Pro Bowl team

In case you missed it, the Cardinals cut Michael Floyd earlier in the week

Tyrann Mathieu is a competitor, so he wants to get back on the field

Quarterback Zac Dysert is back on the 53-man roster

Scooby Wright sees the Cardinals as ‘a good opportunity’

Larry Fitzgerald was not pleased after the Cardinals released Michael Floyd

The Cardinals’ offensive line has been shuffled once again

The Saints have the NFL’s top offense; the Cardinals have the league’s best defense

The Cardinals would like to finish the home part of their schedule on a high note

Miscellany

– With a win, the Cardinals would post their seventh season of at least five home wins since moving over to University of Phoenix Stadium.

– Larry Fitzgerald needs 88 receiving yards to pass Reggie Wayne for ninth place on the NFL’s all-time receiving list. With one catch, he would have a reception in 193 consecutive games, and with seven catches he would establish a new NFL record for receptions in a player’s first 200 career games, passing Jerry Rice (1,115).

– Carson Palmer needs 300 passing yards to have 22 such performances as a Cardinal, which would tie him with Kurt Warner for the most in franchise history.

– With one sack, Calais Campbell would tie Simeon Rice for second place on the franchise’s all-time sacks list with 53.5. With two sacks, Campbell would notch his seventh career season with six or more sacks, extending his franchise record for a defensive lineman.

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